Gear acquisition syndrome got the best of me during this quarantine, and I found myself as the new owner of a Yashica Mat-124G on first week of May. It was pretty easy to convince myself to acquire this beauty frankly, telling myself that I bought the camera as birthday gift, even though my birthday was more than a month away.
This is my third purchase since last July, when I bought a Ricoh 500GX as a starter for learning film photography. Less than three months later I bought another camera, Yashica Electro 35 GS.
I know about twin lens reflex camera since years ago, most notably Rolleiflexes and Rolleicords, though I have no idea there are other manufacturers that also built TLR camera. For me, TLR camera is Rolleiflex/cord. I was introduced to various brands of TLR when browsing Instagram accounts that sell analog cameras. I saw many TLRs such as Seagull, Yashica Mat LM, Yashica 635, and Yashica Mat-124 / 124G. I didn’t pay much attention to these cameras, except for the Yashica Mat-124G. You know the feeling of when you see something that caught your attention and say to yourself “that’s a nice object (camera in this case), hopefully someday I can have something like that”? That was what I felt. I also prefer the 124G over 124, finding the silver trim somehow off-putting.
Still, I didn’t have any plans to acquire one for the foreseeable future. I just landed a job after graduated from university, thus decreasing my time for toying around with my existing cameras.
That was on October 2019.
How It Begin
Fast forward to April 2020, I was working from home like many others during this challenging time. I found myself able to finish my assignments for the day around noon, so I had free time for lollygagging until work hours ended. One day, my sister came to my room showing an Instagram post about a Yashica Mat-124G for sale. It was in near mint condition, with working light meter but came without any accessories. It was also priced rather high.
I was interested and contemplating whether to acquire it or not. Alas, 3 days later I found out that it was sold. Nevertheless, this reignites my interest in acquiring one to try out. I knew that cameras sold through Instagram would be sold quickly, and I didn’t have time to monitor the accounts, so I started scouring online marketplace just like when I searched for my Yashica Electro. I bought my Yashica Electro from a seller that has low “points” (from amount of item sold, not due to bad ratings) which turned out to be very good, so I planned to do just that again.
How I Acquired One
A quick search resulted in 4 listings, 2 of which are disqualified immediately due to bad optics. One of the two left priced way too low to be true, which left only one. The description of that listing only said “For sale Yashica Mat 124G in good condition. Willing to trade with a Mamiya”. The account last logged in was 8 days ago.
Undeterred, I contacted and thankfully got quick response. I asked what’s the catch with the camera and if they would send some images of the camera and some sample pictures taken with the it too. The seller said the light meter was unsurprisingly inoperable, while the camera has paint bubbling around meter needle and chipped paint around often touched areas. The optics were thankfully in good condition and the seller said that they still used it regularly. What I didn’t want was a camera that was stored improperly for years in suboptimal condition and rarely being used. Accessories such as straps (one original Yashica strap, one third party leather strap), wide angle adapter with the case, and the ever-ready case bundled together in the sale sealed the deal. The package arrived two days after I made the purchase.
First Impression About the Camera
It feels solid and hefty, definitely unlike any other cameras I’ve held before. It’s smaller than I anticipated though. As for the condition…
I know I sound like complaining, but I am not. The condition makes it not too precious being used. If the condition is mint, I would feel heavier guilt if I accidentally do some minor damage while using the camera.
Thankfully the viewing and taking lens are indeed clean. What the seller didn’t mention is both lenses were attached with filter which might explain how nice the lens’ condition is. Swinging the top cover produces sound like swinging an old metal gate open, and you’ll be greeted with a ground glass. It’s dim but not terribly so. But man, I can’t emphasise enough how beautiful that viewfinder is. Viewing the scene through it with both eyes open make whatever you see popped like it has 3D effect. It also helps that the viewing lens has aperture size of f 2.8, that produces beautiful bokeh.
Unfortunately, the taking lens does not share same aperture with viewing lens, instead it has smaller aperture size of f 3.5. Nailing focus is pretty hard without using the loupe attached inside the cover, especially when shooting wide open – for me, at least.
I have to relearn composing the image using waist level viewfinder like many others (based on reviews I read), but it’s not something difficult as I got hold of it even before I finished my first roll. What I have to learn is manual metering with sunny 16 rules, as my previous cameras have working light meter.
The Yashica Mat-124G is a joy to use. I have to compose the image even slower compared with the rangefinder Yashica (I’m not complaining here), and cranking the film lever make me feel like a magician holding a jack-in-the-box toy.
How the Images Turned Out
I had used 3 rolls of film with this camera; 1 roll of Fuji Pro 400H and 2 rolls of Kodak Portra 160.
Fuji Pro 400H Sample Photos
I don’t show many photos as I just started to meter manually using sunny 16 rule, so the results are mostly terrible.
First and Second Kodak Portra 160 Sample Photos
The majority of these photos are from my second roll of Kodak Portra 160, as the first one mostly documented moments of my family that I don’t feel comfortable sharing it to the internet. These are my favorite results so far, as I finally got hold of how to meter (I use this term loosely) correctly based on the condition.
What Is Wrong With the Camera
I don’t know if it’s the camera’s fault or my fault when loading the film, but I only get 11 frames out of supposedly 12 frames. On my first roll, the last picture didn’t appear after developed.
On my second roll, I can’t advanced the forward lever after I took the first picture. I cranked the advance film lever forward but halfway it stopped after turning it around 120 degrees – normally it’s 180 degree – yet I could not took a picture nor rewind the crank opposite way to the normal position, where the lever is pointed at 1 o’clock. I had to forcefully rewind the crank, pressed the shutter button which thankfully made a soft clacking sound. After that I can forward the lever and taking pictures normally until end of the roll. Like the first roll, the first image didn’t appear too.
I didn’t have any problem with my third roll, and surprisingly a quick glance on Google Drive where the lab sent the result to me revealed 12 images. However it turned out that the first picture is…
Clearly something is wrong, either the camera or how I loaded the film – please let me know if you ever experienced something like this. For now, at least I know I can’t count on the first and the last frame.
As for the inoperable light meter does not bother me at all. Again, I think it’s a necessary skill to be able to meter manually based on the scene. Thankfully the battery in Yashica Mat-124G only powers the light meter, unlike my Yashica Electro.
Rest of My Musing
I did mention that the seller bundled the wide angle accessories, but I haven’t tried it out yet. Having only 12 frames to fill in a roll is also a positive thing for me, because I can fill it up quickly then send it to develop. Of course this can also turned into a negative if I wanted to take lots of pictures, as the price of one roll of 120 film is double the price of a Kodak Gold 200 here in Indonesia. Given the current situation, I don’t think I’ll go on holiday in the near future and if I do, it’s the problem for my future self – sucks to be him.
Talking about film rolls, it’s too bad that color negative film in 120 format is not as diverse as 135 – think about Kodak ColorPlus, Gold, Ultramax, or Fuji C200 and Superia X-TRA / Premium. The only brand that offer something like that is Lomography Color 100, 400, and 800. Though what I understand is that medium format is usually reserved for Professional Photographers That Know What They Do™.
Right now my Mat-124G is loaded with another roll of Kodak Portra 160 that is halfway filled, and I also have a roll of Kodak Ektar 100 safely stored in the fridge. But before using the Ektar, I think I will try those Lomography Color films first.
For in-depth review about Yashica Mat-124G, please read Aivaras’ excellent article – he explained the camera way better than I am, and also the accessories for the camera too!